LT John Crouchley is the WWII B-24 pilot whose remains were found in Bulgaria and repatriated back for burial in RI in May of 2017.
He was flying a B-24 bombing mission on June 28, 1944 against the Titan Oil Refineries in Romania. After completing the bomb run, his plane was attacked by a number of German fighters. He was able to keep the four-engine plane aloft for an hour as his gunners fought off repeated attacks. But the German fighters inflicted more damage, and the plane was no longer airworthy. The B-24’s autopilot was destroyed, so Crouchley stayed at the controls, keeping the plane aloft as nine other men jumped to safety. All 9 crew members landed safely and were released from POW camps after the war. But the plane—and Crouchley’s remains—was never found.
The eventual recovery came about largely as a result of the development and growth of the internet. Networking helped connect curious family members with relatives of surviving crew members, who gathered and shared information, zeroing in on the fact that the surviving crew members had been held in prison camps in Bulgaria, not Romania. It took about 14 years, but a retired Bulgarian colonel and academic found a record noting a plane crash and the burial of the remains of a man named “John Krachali.” An archeological dig on a remote mountainside and DNA testing finally resulted in John Crouchley “coming home”.
On May 1, 2017, almost 75 years after his valiant final act, a flag-draped casket containing the remains of Lt. John Dudley Crouchley Jr. arrived at T F Green airport. As the airplane taxied in, it passed under an honor arch of water provided by airport firefighters.
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